2.18.24 First Sunday in Lent. Sermon preached by The Rev. Katie Holicky, Assistant Rector 

2.18.24 First Sunday in Lent                 The Rev. Katie Holicky, Assistant Rector 

I grew up with a dad who spent a lot of his younger years collecting comic books. To this day our family still has boxes and boxes of his rather large collection. I recall the Marvel Comics to be a particular joy of his. On Saturday mornings we would watch the X-Men cartoon that was helping another generation get to know these characters in a new way. I LOVED it! Especially because I was the only girl in my family and I got to see some pretty strong and courageous girls be heroes, or she-roes as a few of my friends might say. My brother, our cousins, and other kids from the neighborhood would “play X-men” out in our backyard pretending to try on the role of superhero for ourselves. I loved the power of playing pretend Storm, with her ability to throw others off course by creating various harsh weather conditions all while flying. Or, playing Rogue who not only could fly but also had super strength and a cool leather jacket! 

While I still love the way Marvel unpacks the nuanced complexity of good and evil, heroes, our shared and individual humanity, and more through film and TV series, I think I get so drawn in because of the action. Both in the sense of action movies and interpersonal action between characters ebbing and flowing through conflict and resolution. These are not just good stories, they are stories on the move with a lot happening! Stories that have me asking questions and paying extra close attention as to not miss anything. 

Now, I often feel this way about the Gospel of Mark, but this week, that feeling felt almost extreme. Talk about action packed! In six sentences Jesus is baptized and named as God’s beloved, sent out into the wilderness by the Spirit, where he was tempted and overcame said temptation. THEN, John is arrested, Jesus goes to Galilee and gets to work proclaiming the goodness of God. Eat your heart out, Marvel Universe! I laughed this week when I opened one of my Bible Commentaries, which are books that present various thoughts, perspectives, opinions, teaching etc. about scripture, and the title of this section was called “Introducing the Spirit, Satan, Jesus and God’s Reign”. The point, friends, is that Mark wastes no time! 

So these six sentences we can break down into three overall topics: Baptism, Temptation, Proclaiming. So, Baptism. Jesus is baptized and chosen or named as God’s beloved child. Notably in Mark we have the words that specifically name that John is the one doing the baptizing of Jesus. Other Gospels, ‘qualify this baptism or omit it’. John S. Pobee, a Ghanaian Christian theologian, wrote that Jesus’ baptism was in “solidarity with the rest of the community”, embodying the transformation of John’s mission. (TTONL, 122). In our modern context we are invited to remember our own baptisms and the promises made individually and in community to God… The Baptismal Covenant. 

Next, Jesus is tempted in the wilderness. Mark’s telling is way less dramatic and less detailed than the accounts of Matthew and Luke (JANT, 59). Though something that stays the same is Satan. For context, “Satan, the ‘adversary’ or ‘accuser’, was not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible until after the exile, when, under Persian influence, this figure became prominent (JANT, 59)”. Jesus’ wilderness wandering for forty days also recalls the wilderness wandering of the Exodus (JANT, 59). The original hearers of this story would have recalled that those tested in the desert for forty years, and, well, not all of those folks passed the test (WBC, 481). So, this clear affirmation of the divine power of Jesus is made all the more clear through this passage where Jesus does prevail. One writer in my research this week put it this way, “In the conflict between God and Satan, God is acting anew through Jesus to defeat Satan” (TBC, 313).

Friends, we too are tempted. There is a promise of temptation for us as followers of Jesus who live in the world of empire while being called to be set apart from the world of empire. Our Lenten practices help us to sit with our feelings of temptation, to notice this feeling more intently and practice managing it so that we can flex and grow our muscles of noticing and rightsizing where we put our energy. 

And so that brings us to proclaiming. You might have noticed that what Jesus is saying is rather close to what John the Baptist was saying. Both expressing great urgency in turning back to God right now. This is sort of fascinating as we note that Jesus’ ministry doesn’t start until after John is arrested showing the “political ramifications” of their shared mission (TTONL, 122). Some scholars think that the word repent here can be taken from the Greek to mean, “‘change of mind’ where ‘mind’ has the sense of the whole inner being. Jewish scholars note that repentance is not in regard to individual sins but in the sense of ‘returning’ to God” (JANT, 59). There’s even a note in my copy of the Lost Gospel of Q, a primary source used by the writers of the synoptic Gospels, that notes that this translation of repentance specifically points to “transformation in goals and life direction”, though this term has been applied to a more Chrisian understanding for centuries. I find that interesting as we explore this on the first Sunday of Lent where we are in the first days of sitting with practices that are meant to help us return to God anew perhaps even with a new life direction.

AND we too are called to proclaim! What good news of God are you sharing? What stories of justice, love, care of the other, peace are you sharing?  How are you sharing it? Who are you telling about your faith? How are you showing your faith? 

One of the things I loved about playing pretend X-Men were the ways these powerful female characters helped me grow. I grew not only my imagination, but also in my sense of confidence, inner and outer strength, voice, and more. It literally empowered me to grow as a person. This is more than a reminder that representation matters, it is a lesson my childhood self is teaching me as an adult. The act of pretending to be a superhero helped me to grow into parts of myself I might not have come to at such a young age. Perhaps you have seen that Ted Talk on the superhero or powerstance. The act of simply standing in this pose with strong posture and hands on the back of your hips impacts your body to feel more confident, grounded, powerful and sure of yourself. 

Sometimes we practice or try on things to not just get good at a thing, but also, or even more pointedly, to grow. To learn things about ourselves along the way. Maybe that is part of what Lent is all about, especially in the Lenten practices we try on. We pray, fast, give, pick up another spiritual practice to grow our relationships with God and to stretch ourselves towards a deeper truth in knowing our own belovedness, humanity, and call to be proclaimers. 

Today may we remember our baptismal promises, try on things that help us grow, and then to come around on the other side at Easter transformed and ready to proclaim the Good News… hopefully a bit more renewed, joyful, and trusting that we can always turn back to God for all that we need. May it be so. 

Resources: Jewish Annotated New Testament, Theological Bible Commentary, The Lost Gospel of Q, Women’s Bible Commentary